june 13, 2010

Anna Blaedel
June 13, 2010
First UMC, Osage
Psalm 5:1-8
Luke 7:36-50

Some of you, but not many of you, know I am a World Cup fan. World Cup, as in soccer. Or, football, as they call it in the rest of the world. The World Cup brings out every ounce of sports fanatic in me…Which usually isn’t much. Come Super Bowl time, I watch it because, well, everyone else is watching it. I like the sense of community connection…but, please forgive me, I don’t really care about the actual event. The NBA playoffs get a little closer…I am a Lakers fan… But the World Cup… I LOVE the World Cup.

And, since I don’t get ESPN, you might see me trolling the town and entering bars at strange times, trying to find coverage. And yes, the game that starts at 2pm today, covered on ABC, will be playing in one room of the parsonage during the Open House…

During another World Cup, friends of mine and I hosted World Cup parties for the month or so that this soccer tournament lasts…for each match we cooked a recipe from one of the countries playing…Tapas from Spain…homemade pasta from Italy…sushi from Japan…baklava from Greece…it challenged us to learn about the culture and cuisine of places usually not on our radar…Serbia. Cameroon. Ghana… When friends arrived for the game, we would say, “Welcome. Come in. Sit down.”

This year, the World Cup is hosted in the country of South Africa. This is the first time to be held in the African continent. It is a chance for a part of the world that has been through gruesome civil war, the horrors of Apartheid, a level of racism and racial violence that is hard for any of us to imagine, widespread poverty…this is a chance for South Africa to extend hospitality. To recognize the horrors in its history, and to move into a new era in the global community. The World Cup offers South Africa a chance to say to the world, “Welcome. Come in. Sit down.”

It is good to extend this invitation, and to welcome others in. It is good to receive this invitation, and be welcomed in.

Our scripture from the Good News according to Luke begins this way: One of the Pharisees asked Jesus over for a meal. Jesus went to the house, and sat down at the table….The story doesn’t stop there, but it does start there. It is a story where Jesus lays out the fundamentals of faith, the teachings that connect to the core of Christ, the core of Christian teaching. Forgiveness. Love that breaks down borders and barriers. Gratitude. Sharing what is precious. Grace upon grace upon grace.
Simon should be the one we learn from. He is a religious man, a religious leader. One of the chosen twelve, close to Jesus. But from Simon we learn only to do as he says, not as he does. He gets hung up on who is worthy, who isn’t good enough. Who he can call a sinner. He is lost in judgment—judging this woman. He even goes so far as judging Jesus for not judging her.

We don’t learn how to be faithful from Simon. Instead, we learn faithfulness from the woman of the town, identified as sinner…we don’t know what her sin is, just that this is how she is known…She isn’t given a name…simply SINNER, as though that says it all. And it is she who teaches us how to welcome Jesus. How to welcome others in Jesus’ name. Who can share and show others the abundant love of God? She who has been told she’s unworthy of God’s love. Who can share and show others the deep forgiveness offered by God? He who has the most to be forgiven. Who can show and share God’s generosity? She who has little to give, but gives all she has.

The story begins with an invitation. Welcome. Come in. Sit down. And then, it is the unnamed woman, not Simon, who shows us how to love. How to extend hospitality.

Today we are celebrating more than being in Day 3 of the World Cup. Last Sunday, Bishop Trimble, Bishop Job, and Bishop Kula from Nigera laid their hands on my head, as others laid their hands on my back and shoulders, and repeated the age old vows, ordaining me as an Elder in full connection in the UMC. It was a sacred event. A holy moment. The power in those words and actions, the weight of those hands, the authority bestowed, are still close to me, palpable. And, it was a shared event…with other ordinands, with friends and family and church folk who are like family…and with some of you.

I cannot tell you how much it meant, means, to me that some of you made the trek down to Des Moines, and sat through an almost THREE HOUR SERVICE!!! to share the moment with me. And, that you are celebrating with me today, in this community. The connection, our connection, is a gift.

After the service was a meal, an opportunity for my worlds to collide. Folks from Osage mingling with clergy colleagues, mixing with family friends, together with members from my home congregation. Even a dearly beloved high school writing teacher was there. Mark and Terry, who prepared, cooked, and served the food are friends and neighbors, people you all have heard me preach about… It was our opportunity, my family’s, to say to those who have supported, nurtured, walked with, and enriched this journey of mine, to say to you all: Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

The theme of this Iowa Annual Conference was “radical hospitality,” and at the final worship service, Tuesday afternoon, Cal, Courtney, myself, and the other Conference goers heard a District Superintendent preach on this same piece of scripture. She connected the theme of “Radical Hospitality” to this gospel story. Her sermon was titled, “School’s not out for the summer,” and she preached about the School of Love, God’s schooling us in love, this passage showing and sharing Jesus’ school of love, in which we all are called to be lifelong students. The school of love does not let out for the summer.

We are the students in the school of love, learning to love, and receive love in return. We are the students in the school of radical hospitality, learning to welcome others into God’s loving grace, and being welcomed in return.

Our homework, our assignment, our final exam, is to say: Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

Those of you who came to Des Moines for the ordination service saw a familiar sight. The rainbow of chairs made by Conference Artist, Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten. Chairs that have sat here, in this sanctuary in Osage. Remember the central message: The chairs, painted the full spectrum of the color wheel. On each chair is a plaque, printed with the name of a group of people…an ethnic group…the many ethnicities, races, and cultures present at Pentecost. And, when the chairs are in a circle, enemies are seated across from each other. Those groups with long held divisions, with animosity, with histories of conflict, across from one another. And, Ted reminded us, the colors next to each other, where there is no conflict, where there is much that is the same, there is also no contrast. It’s a little bit boring. The colors become striking, beautiful, only when there is contrast, difference, which means some sort of conflict, or at least potential for conflict. Enemies inviting one another, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Strangers saying, “Welcome. Come in. Sit down.”

This year Ted had cards available at Conference. Cards of many colors, each with a chair printed on it. Cards extending welcome in many languages. They say, Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

I talked him into parting with some of these cards, so I could share them with you. That is, after all, what we are learning to do together. What is enabling us to do ministry together. What is building our connection together as congregation and pastor…saying to one another, practicing with one another: “Welcome. Come in. Sit down.” Invitations extended from you, to me. Invitations extended from me, to you. Invitations we extend to people not part of, or not yet part of this community: Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

If we do nothing else together, practicing this will make us more faithful. If we do nothing else, extending this will connect us with Christian teaching, and invite Christ into our midst. Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

Each month, for the coming year, I am going to host a meal, each time inviting 7 people to join me at table. There will be a sign up sheet. All are welcome. It will be a way for me to practice what I preach, to gather us at table, to invite us to serve and tend and share with one another. Look for the sign up sheet. I hope you’ll join me. Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

When you come forward for communion, there is a basket with Ted’s cards in it. You are invited to take one. And, then, you are invited to keep it. Or to pass it on. Perhaps you will pray for the nation or group of people identified on the card.
Whatever you do with it, remember God’s promise, remember Christ’s teaching. You are invited. You are welcomed. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are worthy. You are precious. You are invited to receive all of this. And then, to share it, to pass it on, abundantly, and with joy.

Welcome. Come in. Sit down.

When we do this, may we hear Jesus’ words, echoing still, two thousand years after he spoke them: “When you show great love, your faith has saved you.”

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

1 comment:

shari.miller said...

Hi Anna...

I'm a friend of Ted's and helped find the people / expressions for his sermon this year at annual conference. Thank you for moving the radical hospitality of "Come in, sit down" forward in your church. The idea of the invitation to take one of the cards during communion is wonderful. The invitation for people to pray for those from those other nations gives it even more strength. Imagine what could happen if more and more people made the intentional decision to pray for those of different nations, neighborhoods, languages, religions, ethnic groups, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Imagine how the Spirit could manifest herself! May it be so!

Peace be with you...

Shari Miller